Whether you like it or not, The 1975 are one of the biggest bands on the planet and Matt Healy is a bona fide rock star. His mix of sincere confessionalism and self-deprecation has resonated with people searching for something to make an emotional connection with among endless streams of content. That buzz reached fever pitch with 2018’s A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, an epic mishmash of genres that felt distinctly now.
With their promotional materials and elaborate live shows as much a part of the band as their albums, The 1975 have become properly cinematic, and this, their fourth album, is a conclusion to an era which began with their previous record called Music for Cars. It’s how Notes on a Conditional Form can span 80 minutes, 22 songs, and be bookended with a speech by environmental activist Greta Thunberg and a closing-credits ode to Healy’s bandmates. This is a widescreen, technicolor epic that isn’t afraid to take the scenic route.
That grand vision brings some tracks to life here in a big way. The fuzzy punk stomp of People kicks things off proper in a way that suggests this is a collection of songs that will be in your face, immediate, urgent. Me & You Together Song backs up that opening statement, masterfully composed to be an earworm and an emphatically by-the-book 1975 song. An uncredited Phoebe Bridgers collaboration on Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America is a gorgeous addition to a refreshingly spacious track, compared to the more-of-everything approach on these last two records. It showcases Healy’s songwriting and voice by pushing everything else out the way, leaving just sparse instrumentation and delicate harmonies with Bridgers. It’s really good.
That grand vision is also their downfall. Notes on a Conditional Form is simply too much. There is a strong collection of songs in here, lost among endless EDM-influenced interludes and a few disposable tracks. Longer than some double albums, it’s a record in dire need of a trim, and without one its overall effect is heavily diluted. Instead of another win for the band, it’s a clunky, unwieldy beast, which – to their artistic credit – utilises the album format at a time artists rely on individual tracks. But this is what happens when there’s no one around to say ‘no’, and instead of creating an artefact of the times, like they did on A Brief Inquiry…, it’s relatively unlistenable in its current structure.
Which means by the time a 6-minute instrumental like Having No Head hits, already over an hour deep into the album, it becomes truly cumbersome. It’s hinted at early on: there are only two songs proper in the first five tracks. Lose the instrumentals The End (Music For Cars) and Streaming, lose the electronic Shiny Collarbone and Yeah I Know and you’re still only beginning to tidy up what is a bloated piece of work.
There are some classic 1975 songs in here – the 80s-drenched If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know) is so easy to love – and while it’s admirable Matty and co have attempted to do something with the album format, its unbound ambition is a weakness too significant to look past.
Notes on a Conditional Form is available now